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Are Crossbows More Powerful than Compound Bows?

Some people suggest crossbows are much more powerful, but are they really? And if so, how much more?

By Jeff Johnston

Recently I went to a local archery range and quickly learned that the president of said range is a traditional archer. When I broke out my new PSE crossbow to practice for the upcoming archery season—crossbows are legal means for Virginia’s regular archery seasons—he got in my face and told me that crossbows were not allowed at the range. When I asked him why, he told me that crossbows “destroy the targets because they are so powerful.” I believe he has a bias against crossbows because my offer to bring and use my own portable target didn’t sway him. I didn’t shoot my crossbow that day, but I called 1-800-Bullshooters on that archery snob and began a mission to find the facts.

The Question: Does the average modern crossbow deliver more kinetic energy to the target than the average modern compound bow?

The Math: To find the answer, I chronographed four popular crossbows—using factory recommended bolt weights and point weights—and found the average kenetic energy for modern crossbows. Then I compared the numbers to the average kinetic energy produced by popular modern compound bows using the most popular arrow and point weights.

*Crossbow speeds and draw weights vary by model, but individual units of the same model generally shoot the same draw weight, draw length and arrow size, therefore speed and energy is very close.

*Compound bow speeds and energies, on the other hand, vary wildly because most are highly adjustable and therefore each shooter selects a customized draw weight, draw length and arrow length and weight, which all contribute to the arrow’s speed and energy.

So, to find a general answer to this general question, I asked experts at archery manufacturing giant PSE what the average compound bow typically sold would be. Blake Shelby said a typical modern compound bow has a 65-pound draw weight, drawing a 29-inch, 400-grain arrow that averages 285 fps. from a new, top-end bow.

The Data:
Crossbow average kinetic energy average: 327 fps / 420 grains = 99.747 KE

Specific crossbow setups (with varying draw lengths and weights for comparison purposes):
-Wicked Ridge Invader: 297 fps / 445 grains KE = 87.18
-Stryker Strykzone 380: 375 fps / 395 grains KE= 123.37
-Parker Concord: 293 fps / 415 grains. KE= 79.12
-PSE Tac 10: 341 fps / 425 grains KE= 109.76

Vertical compound bow kinetic energy average: 285 fps / 400 grains = 72.16 KE

Specific compound bow setups (with varying draw lengths and weights for comparison purposes):
-PSE Dream Season EVO: 65 # @ 311 fps / 375 grains KE= 80.55
-Darton DS 3800: 72 # @ 344 fps / 348 grains KE= 91.46 
-Bowtech Invasion: 59 # @ 276  fps / 385 grains KE= 65.13 
-Mathews Z7: 59 # @ 272 fps / 385 grains KE= 63.26

There are many things involved here, including draw weights, power stroke lengths, shooting techniques, arrow rests, etc., but on average, modern crossbows deliver more energy than modern compound bows. The difference is negligible however, especially when compared to a modern rifle (a .30-06 with a 150-grain bullet delivers a muzzle energy of about 2,800), so this comparison isn’t to suggest that crossbows can be used effectively at greater ranges than compound bows. With cutting-edge archery technology, shot placement is absolutely critical, and the bow is only as effective as the shooter. Nonetheless, the snobby traditional archer was right—a crossbow does have a little more energy than the average compound bow—but his argument that crossbows will destroy the targets moreso than any other bow is highly questionable. I smell another Bullshooters article brewing.

The Answer: The average modern crossbows delivers slightly more kinetic energy than the average modern compound bow.

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13 Responses to Are Crossbows More Powerful than Compound Bows?

Patrick wrote:
June 25, 2014

I think the crossbow has more power. Unfortunately this past Jan.1st a friend and an old school mate had horrible accident trying to cross a fence and his crossbow got caught on the fence it shot my old school mate in head. Unfortunately he lost his life the next day. To see how much power it had I just don't think a compound bow would have it. Then again I'm not hunter I like going to the range and I know my 357 has more energy that any of these. Regardless anyone using any type of hunting weapon please be careful because my friend has had many sleepless nights after accidentally killing a lifelong hunting partner it was such a sad tragedy.

Frans wrote:
June 19, 2014

I'm planning on building my own crossbow but how do i measure the fps at the end ?

Tim wrote:
September 19, 2013

Everybody is talking about the 'pulled weight comparisons', but is missing the concept. Draw length plays an important role. My crossbow has a 12 inch draw with 150#. My bow has a 30 inch draw with 70 lbs, so the energy produced by both is actually really close. The compound bow snaps back and produces just as much energy in 30 inches as the crossbow does in just 12 inches.

240m3srt wrote:
September 08, 2013

My Scorpyd Ventilator 150 xbow makes 140KE with a 515 gr arrow at 350 fps, and at 50 yards its still flying at 325 fps. Show me a vertical bow that comes anywhere close. And whoever mentioned comparing similar draw weights, thats like saying tune down your supercharged V8 so it will run with my KIA so the results will be the same...come on sir:/

Brian Newton wrote:
May 31, 2013

Crossbow hunting is gaining more and more popularity these days as a lot of countries are catching up to the thought of using crossbows for hunting. Several elder people feel that they no more have the strength required to shoot traditional bows and hence prefer crossbows in games and field. Although, most modern crossbows are designed to offer a high level of accuracy, they still give the seeker a sense of having to be trained to kill a prey. Besides, you might hear people putting up false trails like – “Crossbows are just for hunters or you do not need special skills for crossbows”. Never pay heed to such myths as almost each one is false. It's not straightforward to make a swift kill without tolerance and talent in the field and most hunters have neither of the two. Hunters generally prefer weapons like high powered rifles and traps. Rifles and traps ensure a quick getaway and hence are preferred for hunters with little or no skill. Crossbows – Especially Excalibur crossbows, demand high level of skill and precision and hence are not preferred by one and all. http://www.outdoorsexperience.com/

John wrote:
April 05, 2013

I agree that the crossbow arrow sheds velocity faster than an arrow from a vertical bow. I shoot both a 175# draw crossbow and a 65# draw compound. The compound arrow actually shoots a flatter trajectory because it retains more velocity down range. Crossbow arrows only LOOK like they hit harder because they are so short. Whereas a 30' arrow sunk 15' into a target looks relatively benign, a 18' crossbow arrow sunk 15' into the target will be buried to the fletching. So no, crossbow arrows don't destroy archery targets. Archery targets destroy crossbow arrows.

Akabar wrote:
December 16, 2012

Last I checked, the highest draw weight of ANY compound bow available was 105 lbs. Last I checked, the lowest draw weight of any crossbow was 125# (barring childrens models, toys, antiques, etc...) So, complaining that He compared a crossbow with a 150lb draw to a compound bow with a 72# draw and it was unfair is just stupid. If you were able to set a compound bow to 150 LB draw, and a crossbow to 150 lb draw, then of COURSE the compound bow is going to have more power. The point is, that what you BUY in a store means you're going to have a more powerful weapon with a crossbow than with a compound bow.

Pete wrote:
December 15, 2012

I use a Rogue Pearson '87 set to 85# It probably has at least as much KE as most of the crossbows out there, and will certainly do as much to tear up targets. This rangemaster is just being nasty.

Kai wrote:
November 27, 2012

Your analysis is well constructed, but ultimately flawed. Your approach can only measure energy at 'the muzzle'. Having programmed several ballistic calculators for firearms, I can tell you that the muzzle velocity and projectile weight are only two of several variables that you need to consider, not the least of which is the distance at which the projectile finally impacts. I'm afraid that ultimately your numbers do not answer the question you seek to answer.

Duane wrote:
June 03, 2012

Your conclusion is somewhat flawed. Your math doesn't account for the energy lost at various distances. Shoot a crossbow and a compound at a target at various distances and you will see what I mean. The crossbow bolt loses energy faster and drops more at longer distances. So you can't just go by the initial speeds and KE.

BS wrote:
May 18, 2012

Eddie, I disagree that this is unscientific. If you measured the energy produced by the same draw weights for both crossbows and vertical compound bows, of course the vertical bows would have more energy for the reasons you specified. But you are overthinking this test: Crossbows are not available to consumers in the same low comparitively low draw weights as compound bows, so comparing same draw weights is pointless. The reality is, popular cross bows are available with draw weights ranging from 150 to 275 pounds of draw weight, while vertical bows average 50-80 pounds. You are right that crossbows require heavier draw weights to match the longer powerstrokes of vertical bows, and so many crossbows have double or nearly triple the draw weight. This is a real world comparison, and the numbers indicate that on average, most crossbows have more energy that most vertical bows. Thanks for reading!

Eddie wrote:
April 17, 2012

This was SO UNSCIENTIFIC!!! You used clearly heavier weight draws for the crossbows as compared to the compound bow. That IS NOT an equal comparison. and NO YOU ARE WRONG! A crossbow needs more weight to match the compound bow because it has a shorter power stroke affecting acceleration.

Brent Hanford wrote:
March 13, 2012

That's science!!